The more my substance thins to fill the world

The more the world fills me.


Sun shining, moon rising,

Stars in their savagery,

The meaningless gaze of the fox

Dead on the road, the broken bird

The bloodied fur, wind-feathered wing

Sing in me


Oh my beauty,

Oh my broken beauty.



“I’m such a clever toad”

Well, in yesterday’s post I found myself quoting HM The Queen who once said, it is said, that she should like to be a horse. Most of us would have said would, but presumably should is the proper word, since Her Majesty employed it. She was quite young at the time. I mean, you can’t imagine her standing up in the middle of a banquet in honour of foreign dignitaries, clattering on her glass with a knife and, as silence swiftly fell, announcing:

We should like to be a horse!

Though no doubt everyone would nod and smile approvingly.

Today, by coincidence, I came across this high school writing prompt:

The animal you would like to be.

That would have to be a cat, I suppose, since I live in a house bursting at the seams with them. Over the years they seem to have become more human and I more cat-like. Presumably eventually we will meet in the middle as a hybrid species: hats. I would of course prefer to be a well-fed, extremely spoilt domestic moggie than one of the multitude of thin, sad strays, out in all weathers, fending for themselves on city streets.

Then I started to wonder what animal other people would associate me with, and a little cluster of unpleasant memories floated to the surface. In the main, of course, people are too polite to point out that you remind them of a slug or a gorilla, but I was once acquainted with a very rude old man called Norman who frequented the village pub and village “do’s” in general. Norman was a menace. His first – bellowed – question on catching sight of you would always be: Ow’s yer sex life, then? This was an unfamiliar social ritual to me – I couldn’t answer, and was fairly sure one was not supposed to answer, but yet an answer seemed to be required

Norman was a prime source of animal insults. He once informed me that I reminded him of a thoroughbred racehorse. This wasn’t too bad because he might have meant sleek, glossy, highly-strung, intelligent, classy…

But next time I met him it was at a dance in the next village. There we all were, for some long-forgotten reason, circling between walls plastered with posters for mother-and-baby sessions, boy scouts and so forth, when he asked me to dance. I didn’t want to dance with Norman, guessing (correctly) that he would be the sort to whisk me vigorously round corners and tread on my toes, but it seemed rude to refuse. We circled, and he peered beerily over my left shoulder and remarked to one of his ancient mates who happened to be close by:

It’s like dancing with a bloody great giraffe.

If I had to choose an animal totem – apart from cats – I think I would – or should – let’s just say might – plump for Toad from Wind in the Willows. I do kind of like zooming about the countryside in my motor car and certain – rigidly suppressed – aspects of my personality – impulsiveness, impracticality, illogicallity, a tendency to show off and over-dramatise – do rather remind me of the brownish/greenish occupant – apart from when the weasles invaded – of Toad Hall.



SNOW AND A SUPERMOON (Angels & Other Occurrences 4.3)

Siobbhán looked back at the ice cream van with something like contempt. ‘You got all the way from London in that? My God, girl, you need to get yourself a proper gypsy trailer, and a nice, strong four by four to tow it with. Move those dresses off the bed, would you, Rawnie?’

The gypsies had at first mistaken them for the police, come to move them on, but the van had saved the day by treating everyone several rounds of its Popeye the Sailor-Man jingle before giving up altogether. This broke the tension. The large, scary-looking ‘menfolk’ turned back to their music, breaking open fresh cans of beer with tattooed fingers – they were having an impromptu party to celebrate the great moon’s visit – and a group of women and girls, summing up Marie’s situation at a glance – shepherded the young couple to a particularly large trailer on the edge of their encampment.

‘We save this one for birthings,’ Siobbhán explained.

‘And for storing our party dresses,’ piped up her sixteen year old daughter Rawnie.

Marie was dazzled by an array of sequins, satin, net and general bling. Neon pink seemed to be the overwhelming favourite, with electric blue and arctic white as runners-up. Rawnie lifted six or seven of these creations off the bed and hung them one by one, on a dress rail. ‘Thousands and thousands of pounds, these cost,’ she boasted. Marie could believe it and was impressed, in spite of the contractions, which were coming more frequently now.

Sepp, in the meantime, was speechless, overwhelmed by glitter and pink and … femaleness. Everywhere he looked was unfamiliar territory. And then everyone suddenly turned to look at him.

‘You must go,’ said Siobbhán, ‘Go join the men.’

‘But I promised my wife I’d be present at the…’

‘That’s the gorgja way, I know, but it’s not ours. We will fetch you after – very soon after.’

‘It’s OK, Sepp,’ said Marie. ‘I know how squeamish you are. I knew you were only being brave when you offered. Go and join the men by the fire. Talk about man-things.’ Man-things? thought Sepp. What man-things do I have in common with a band of huge, tattooed Irish gypsies? But he went, stumbling across rough ground in snow and darkness, and they made room for him in their circle. Someone put part of a tree branch on the fire and someone opened a can of beer and passed it along to him. The man sitting next to him slapped him on the back and grinned. ‘Young man, you’ve no idea what you’ve let yourself in for, and that’s a fact!’ And everybody laughed. Someone picked up the fiddle again, and someone else started singing in a language Sepp had never heard. It was comforting to hear. Something about it reminded him of Ma and Pa in the kitchen, talking Italian together, renewing their ties to each other and the land they had left behind many years before.

And so it was that baby Gesù was born, surprisingly quickly and not at all as planned, in a gypsy trailer somewhere in Norfolk, or possibly Suffolk, whilst outside snow fell and fell, blanketing East Anglia, fiddle music and beer-fuelled laughter echoed around an empty field and a rare supermoon shone in through the trailer window, silvering the faces of the women within.

Except the field wasn’t empty. Later that night, Sepp and Marie lay side by side on the narrow bed, their baby between them in a striped cardboard box that a very expensive gypsy dress had come out of, wrapped in pillow case and covered in a folded shawl. And unseen and unknown to them creatures began to gather around the trailer – a couple of sheep and a fox, a badger, a rabbit and a mouse, an owl on the roof, maybe even a rat or two. Creatures that would normally have hunted or avoided one another waited in the snow, basking in the strange warmth that seemed to be radiating from the trailer, at peace with one another for a night.

And inside the trailer, under the bed, also unknown, a lurcher suckled four new puppies and spiders crept from who knows where, to keep their own vigil.

Marie was sleeping, exhausted.

‘That moon is so bright,’ murmured Sepp, nine parts asleep himself, as a faint, ghostly light shone up from the padded dress box and its occupant, Gésu, his firstborn son.

(Luke 2: 1-7)

Angels & Other Occurrences is a kind of ‘alternative nativity’ short story sequence. To read other stories in the same sequence just click on Angels & Other Occurrences in the Category Cloud to your right.